Dealing with Cravings
Many women experience strong urges to smoke after they have quit. Smoking becomes part of your everyday routine, and is also an addiction. Cravings can be physical as a result of your body getting used to not receiving nicotine anymore. You might get a craving like this whenever your brain detects a shortage in nicotine. Cravings can also be related to your routines or memories of smoking. These kinds of cravings might come from seeing or smelling others smoke, from your daily habits such as your morning coffee or with other cues such as stress.
Physical cravings are also called nicotine withdrawal. As your body adjusts to you not smoking, many positive changes happen. For example, your senses of smell and taste will improve, you will be able to breathe easier and you will have better circulation. But as your body gets rid of the nicotine and begins the recovery process, some of the symptoms can feel unpleasant.
Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:
- Feeling irritable or cranky
- Having trouble sleeping
- Having trouble concentrating
- Feeling lightheaded
- Stomach pain
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth
The good news is that nicotine withdrawal symptoms are only temporary! This phase of recovery is different for everyone, but it doesn’t last long- usually only 1 to 2 weeks. Consider talking to your health care provider about using nicotine replacement therapy such as the patch or medications that can help reduce these symptoms.
Urges related to your routines or memories of smoking may last a little longer. See our pages on stressors
to read more about the common causes of urges to smoke in daily life. Some of the most common triggers include: drinking alcohol or coffee, feeling bored, after meals, and seeing others smoke. Triggers will be different for every woman because routines and memories of smoking are different for all of us. While they may last longer than physical cravings, urges will not last forever either.
Here are some ways to deal with cravings:
- Remember that while cravings are very difficult, they pass after several minutes whether you smoke or don’t smoke.
- Knowing that cravings are short, delay the urge to smoke until it passes.
- Plan for these 5 minute cravings so that you can recognize them when they happen.
- Strategize ahead of time for what you will do to overcome cravings. Cravings can be so strong that it is difficult to think of anything but smoking. Having a plan for this situation will help. Think of specific situations in your life where you know you will have cravings, and plan for how you will deal with them.
- Distract yourself when you are having a craving by doing anything that keeps your mind and body busy. Drink a glass of water, play a computer game, go for a walk, call a friend, take a shower, do a puzzle…
- If you are in a position where you are finding it extremely difficult not to smoke, such as being at a party or in a car with someone who is smoking, leave the situation.
- Remind yourself of all of the reasons why you have decided to reduce or quit smoking. Try writing these reasons down on a piece of paper that you can read when you are dealing with a craving.
- Focus on positive thoughts. Do not be hard on yourself for having a craving and remember that it is a natural part of the process of quitting or reducing smoking.
It is also a good idea to be prepared for the possibility of having a “slip”. Slips are common when people are trying to quit. The key thing is to not let the slip lead to returning to smoking. Similar to cravings, this can be possible by making a plan to prevent slips and to deal with them if they happen.
Prevent slips using the tips above for dealing with cravings and strategizing. Think about what situation you would most likely be in if you were to smoke again, and then think about what coping strategies you would use to avoid smoking in that situation. It might help to write these ideas down too.
You can also prepare for warning signs that are common before a slip. Here are some common thoughts women might have that lead to a slip:
- One won’t hurt.
- I’m sure I can smoke socially now that I’ve quit.
- I’m stressed! Just this once to help me get through this.
- I’ve been quit for long enough that I have control over this.
- Now that the baby is born, I can have a cigarette to reward myself for being smoke free during my pregnancy.
If you do have a slip, do not beat yourself up about it. It is important not to focus on feelings of guilt or failure that might result from a slip. These feelings may not make you feel very confident or good about yourself. Slips are a normal part of the quitting process, and they are something you can triumph over. Keep your slip from turning into a relapse by planning for how you will avoid similar smoking triggers in the future. Think of where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, and how these factors may have contributed to you smoking. Think about what you will do in similar situations in the future to prevent a slip. Throw away any other cigarettes you have and make a commitment right away to quitting again.
Learn from your slip, prepare for next time and stay positive!